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Can we get healthier outcomes from Aussie men?

By Peter West - posted Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Nicola Roxon, Minister for Health in the Australian Government, is spearheading development of a men’s health policy.

A number of documents are being produced, and the Minister has provided a website setting out many of them. A form is provided which encourages men and women to contribute ideas. This article expands on some of the points made in Development of a National Men’s Health Policy: An Information Paper from the Department of Health and Ageing.

The paper suggests that, asked about a men’s health policy, some used to say “Yes, but what about women?” Fortunately those days are gone. We know that one of the main factors in getting men healthier is for them to have women encouraging, supporting and assisting them. And of course governments have long provided for women’s health needs, which are in many ways different from those of men.


In this piece I aim to set out some of the main barriers preventing men from leading healthier lives. And then to suggest some ways in which we can move towards a healthier male population.

When you hear the word MAN, what do you think of first? Take a moment to reflect, or jot down a couple of phrases. Often the following ideas come to mind:

Work, strength, sport, muscles, families.

The paper says that men’s health is important for economic reasons. Healthier men contribute better to workplaces and make fewer demands on health services. Men are also making more contributions to families as single fathers, “access dads” and carers. Men also volunteer in large numbers as lifesavers, fire-fighters, SES volunteers and similar. Of course, healthier men are happier and so better health is important for humane reasons, too.

Men, work and social disadvantage

The government paper talks about socio-economic effects (SES) as a huge determinant on health. Overworked men, like busy executives and managers, usually can’t find time to exercise properly or eat carefully. At the other end of the scale, many men are homeless and can’t afford proper housing, food or exercise. Older, poorer men are socially isolated and find it hard to get social support. Socio-economic disadvantage has contributed to 19 per cent of the mortality burden for men.

Unemployment is associated with lower levels of happiness and mental health problems. And lower SES is universally associated with poorer health outcomes across the life span. (p.8)


I found when writing my book, Fathers, Sons and Lovers, that most men define themselves through work. To have healthier men, we need to look hard at workplaces. Often workplaces have been made more suitable for women; better childcare facilities, provision for maternity leave, stress leave. We need to think about men in workplaces too. In all my working life to date (I am semi-retired) I never once took stress leave. It isn’t masculine to do that. I wonder how many men use stress leave, compared with women?

Though some men take a few weeks’ paternity leave, it isn’t convenient for organisations to have men taking large amounts of leave for personal reasons. Society needs men (as well as many women) to keep on working; and, when needed, to fight in the service of their country.

Men, four-wheel drives and the recession

There is a high percentage of men in the sectors hit hardest by the current recession: manufacturing; design and construction; banking and finance; and certain parts of the travel industry.

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About the Author

Dr Peter West is a well-known social commentator and an expert on men's and boys' issues. He is the author of Fathers, Sons and Lovers: Men Talk about Their Lives from the 1930s to Today (Finch,1996). He works part-time in the Faculty of Education, Australian Catholic University, Sydney.

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Related Links
CARPE DIEM - Professor Mark J. Perry's Blog for Economics and Finance
The Slump: It's a Guy Thing, BusinessWeek

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